Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I hate plumbing. Can I say that? I hate plumbing. This necessary evil in most homes drives me nuts. Electrical I can handle, but plumbing drives me around the bend. It's not that I can't do it, I can, and I have done lots of it, but that doesn't endear me to it.

Electrical work is so clean. Nothing gets wet. Nothing leaks slowly. You don't have to join wires together every ten feet and around every corner. There's no such thing as elbows and tee-joints, unless you are running wires in a conduit, in which case you are back to plumbing. If something goes wrong, it just blows a breaker or refuses to work. It doesn't soak the insulation and warp the plywood. It doesn't result in large puddles of electricity on the floor. If something goes REALLY wrong, the resulting fire usually burns pretty clean.

Plumbing projects always last a lot longer than originally estimated. I usually have lots of spare parts on hand from prior projects, but none of them ever fit. The pipe glue for plastic pipe has always dried out by the time I need it. The fancy creation I have made out of pipe to get around an obstruction points the wrong way. All this results in extra trips to the hardware store for more supplies. If I have to dig a trench to lay a pipe outside, there will invariably be large stones just under the grass which stop the shovel with a bone-jarring clank. Just below the stone will be a main sprinkler line that I laid a few years ago that I have forgotten about. This main line is no match for the shovel and I end up shattering a section of the pipe. The sudden flow of water instantly soaks the ground and my clothing and I leave a wet trail through the house as I rush in to shut the well off.

The latest project was an outside water faucet that leaked. Badly. It should have been replaced several years ago, but, as you know by now, I hate plumbing. This year the handle started to strip. When you turned the handle, you were not usually opening the faucet, unless you pushed down at the same time.

Yesterday, it was time to fix it. I needed to spray some weeds and it was difficult to turn the water on to fill the sprayer.

I tried tightening the screw holding the handle on. It broke. Now the faucet has no handle. I dug through my spare parts. I actually found a new faucet that fit. Now the chore was getting the old faucet off.

A couple years ago, after another plumbing project which required me to borrow a pipe wrench, Deb bought me my own pipe wrench. A nice big one. Two feet long. It could double as a boat anchor. Armed with that wrench, I attempted to unscrew the entire faucet from the wall. It turned, but the entire pipe turned with it, making the old caulking around the pipe chip away in large chunks. I wormed my way into the crawl space to clamp the pipe down from the inside.

Back outside to give the faucet another go. This time I could feel the resistance of the clamped pipe. The faucet began to turn. Slowly at first, then all of a sudden easily. Looking at it closely, I could see the pipe was still turning with it.

Back into the crawl space to check on the status of the clamp. It hadn't moved. That could only mean one thing. The section of copper pipe hidden inside the wall had buckled and twisted from the force. Not a good situation. Now a half-hour project was turning into an entire day project. Rebuilding the pipe in those tight quarters was not going to be fun. And any more attempts to turn the faucet would most likely break the pipe.

It's here that my "whatever works" engineering philosophy kicked in. I didn't need a new faucet. I just needed a way to stop the water from flowing. I drove to Lowe's and bought a small shut-off valve with hose fittings, and screwed that onto the end of the faucet. The faucet may not close all the way and have no handle, but it doesn't matter anymore. The three bucks I spent on the in-line shut-off valve saved me an entire evening of work, and probably an equivalent amount in new fittings and pipe sections.

I may have delayed the inevitable, probably having to actually fix it if I ever sell the house, but I saved the time for now (an hour saved is an hour earned!). I actually got the weeds sprayed before it got dark.

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